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This project is studying the effects of the shifts in Internet traffic resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic on the following aspects of broadband Internet access infrastructure. We are studying how traffic volumes are changing as a result of changes in daily patterns of life, as well as how those shifts in traffic volume affect network utilization, network performance, application performance, and user experience. These questions have become increasingly critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, as large fractions of the population have come to depend on reliable Internet access that performs well for a variety of applications, from video conferencing to remote learning and healthcare. RAPID funding is critical now, because various policies involving isolation, distancing, and the closing of schools, libraries and services are affecting the usage patterns in our network, right at the time when our entire society is coming to rely on the network more than ever.

This project will involve an unprecedented coordination of data about network traffic load under crisis, through granular measurements, proprietary data sharing agreements, and user experiences, as well as extensive baseline data spanning over ten years. This project aims to study two fundamental research questions: (1) What is the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on network traffic patterns? and (2) How well do (and will) the infrastructure and applications sustain these changes in traffic patterns? To study these questions, we propose to take a multi-faceted approach, exploring issues including access performance and interconnect capacity, as well as (to the extent possible), user experience when using critical applications when the network is under strain.

This project will shed light on the extent to which the existing Internet infrastructure can sustain exogenous “shocks” that dramatically shift the location, nature, and scale of network traffic. Our intent is to measure and characterize baseline Internet performance — both of the access networks and the application performance — as well as the performance of specific Internet applications. Insights into the state of broadband Internet performance will yield important insights about how broader government policies to close schools and rely on remote e-learning may affect the broader population. Understanding how the increased strain on the Internet on other application areas in medicine and public health, including patient compliance and remote caregiving, are also critically important.